Skip to content

Sustainability Master’s Degree Requirements

The Master of Liberal Arts, Sustainability degree field is offered online with 1 course required on-campus here at Harvard University. Weekend options are available for the on-campus course.

Getting Started

Explore Degree Requirements

Upcoming Term: Summer 2024

Course registration is open March 4 – June 20. Learn how to register →

Fall 2024 courses and registration details will be live in June.

Required Course Curriculum

  • Two people on a zoom call.

    Online core and elective courses

  • School building.

    On-campus thesis proposal or capstone course

  • Lightbulb in a hand.

    Capstone or thesis

12 Graduate Courses (48 credits)

The degree is highly customizable. As part of the program curriculum, you choose either a capstone or thesis track as well as the sustainability courses that meet your professional goals, whether it’s corporate sustainability, natural resource management, environmental policy, city planning, or food systems.

Online courses are primarily asynchronous, providing flexibility for international students and those with variable work schedules.

Required Core & Elective Courses

  • ENVR 101 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Sustainability and Global Development
  • ENVR 210 Quantitative Research in Sustainability
  • 3 sustainability skill-set courses
  • 3 sustainability electives
    • EXPO 42c Writing in the Sciences or EXPO 42b Writing in the Social Sciences is an option.

Browse Courses →


Thesis Track

The thesis is a 9-month independent research project where you work one-on-one in a tutorial setting with a thesis director.

You enroll in the following additional courses:

  • 1 applied research course
  • ENVR 496 Crafting the Thesis Proposal in Sustainability course (3-week on-campus course; see on-campus experience)
  • ENVR 499AB ALM Thesis in Sustainability (8 credits)

Recent Thesis Topics:

  • Examining Partnerships Between Grocery Stores and Food Pantries as a Mechanism for Reducing Grocery Stores’ Generated Food Waste
  • Solar Power Tower: An Alternative Method to Power Egypt
  • Quantifying Benefit-Cost Ratios for a Low Emission Zone against Heavy Duty Diesel Vehicles in Bangkok
  • Dumping on the Disenfranchised: Environmental Justice Implications of Polychlorinated
    Biphenyl Contamination in West Virginia
  • Design Methodology for Optimized Climate-Specific Passive Dew Collectors

Capstone Track

In the capstone track, you develop a project design in the precapstone tutorial, then execute the project in your capstone course. You choose between the 1) independent research capstone or 2) consulting capstone.

Additional courses for this track include:

  • 3 sustainability electives
  • Precapstone tutorial (noncredit)
  • Capstone (on campus one weekend or 3 weeks; see on-campus experience)

Capstone sequencing. For either capstone, you enroll in the precapstone and capstone courses in back-to-back semesters and in your final academic year. The capstone must be taken alone as your sole remaining degree requirement.

Independent research capstone experience. First, in ENVR 598 Sustainability Precapstone Tutorial, you design an independent research project with your assigned research advisor. Then, in the ENVR 599 Independent Research Capstone, you execute the research while receiving guidance and support from your instructor and fellow degree candidates.

Recent Research Capstone Topics:

  • Analyzing Implementation Barriers to Farm-to-School Programs
  • Comparing External Cost in the Transportation of Alberta Bitumen by Pipeline and Rail
  • To What Extent Are Wind and Solar Companies Pursuing a Clean Energy Future at the Expense of Human Rights?
  • Clean Ride to School: Viability and Opportunities of School Bus Electrification in
  • Capturing Carbon Atmospherically for Use as Materials and Ingredients as an Alternative to
    Fossil Fuel Sources

Consulting capstone experience. First, in ENVR 598a Consulting for Sustainability Solutions Precapstone, you work with your research advisor to identify a partner organization. For example, a company, nonprofit organization or governmental agency. Then, in ENVR 599a Consulting for Sustainability Solutions Capstone, you develop a Sustainable Action Plan (SAP) to support the partner’s sustainability efforts.

Recent Consulting Partners:

  • IBM
  • National Oil Company of the United Arab Emirates
  • Sargento Foods, Inc.
  • Luwire Wildlife Conservancy (Mozambique)
  • Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University
  • Automotive Industry, Mexico

Optional Graduate and Microcertificates

On-Campus Experience

  • Calendar.

    Choose between the thesis or capstone on-campus experience.

  • Two people talking at a table.

    Learn and network in-person with your classmates.

Nearly all courses can be taken online, but you are required to come to Harvard University for at least 1 course—either the thesis proposal or capstone course—to share your research design or experience with faculty and peers.

Choose between two on-campus experience options:

  • Thesis track option: Complete the thesis proposal course on-campus either in our 3-week January session or 3-week on-campus Harvard Summer School (HSS) session.
  • Capstone track option: Complete the capstone via an online course with an on-campus weekend in the fall or spring or a 3-week on-campus Harvard Summer School (HSS) session.

The 3-week HSS option is ideal for those who want a more traditional on-campus experience. HSS offers, for an additional fee, housing, meal plans, and a prolonged on-campus experience here at Harvard University. Learn more about campus life at Harvard.

International Students Who Need a Student Visa

To meet the on-campus requirement, you choose the Standard on-campus option and study with us in the summer. You can easily request an I-20 for the F-1 student visa for Harvard Summer School’s 3-week session. For more details, see International Student Study Options for important visa information.

In-Person Co-Curricular Events

Come to Cambridge for Convocation (fall) to celebrate your hard-earned admission, Harvard career fairs offered throughout the year, HES alumni networking events (here at Harvard and around the world), and, of course, Harvard University Commencement (May).


  • Diploma.

    Confirm your initial eligibility with a 4-year bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent.

  • Person climbing toward a flag.

    Take two courses in our unique “earn your way in” admissions process that count toward your degree.

  • Checking off a box.

    In the semester of your second course, submit the official application for admission to the program.

Below are our initial eligibility requirements and an overview of our unique admissions process to help get you started. Visit the Degree Program Admissions page for more details.

Initial Eligibility

Earning Your Way In — Courses Required for Admission

To begin the admission process, you simply register — no application required — for the following two, four-credit, graduate-level degree courses (available online).

These prerequisite courses count toward your degree once you’re admitted; they are not additional courses. They are investments in your studies and help ensure success in the program.

  • ENVR 101 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Sustainability and Development Practice
    • Before registering, you’ll need to pass our online test of critical reading and writing skills or earn a B or higher in EXPO 42c Writing in the Sciences or EXPO 42b Writing in the Social Sciences.
    • You have two attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar (a withdrawal grade counts as an attempt). The proseminar cannot be more than 2 years old at the time of application.
  • ENVR 210 Quantitative Research in Sustainability

While the two courses don’t need to be taken in a particular order or in the same semester, we recommend that you start with ENVR 101. Each course must be completed with a grade of B or higher, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.

Applying to the Degree Program

During the semester of your second degree course, submit the official application to the program.

Don’t delay! You must prioritize the two degree courses for admission and apply before completing subsequent courses. By doing so, you’ll:

  • Avoid the loss of credit due to expired course work or changes to admission and degree requirements.
  • Ensure your enrollment in critical and timely degree-candidate-only courses.
  • Avoid the delayed application fee.
  • Gain access to exclusive benefits.

Eligible students who submit a complete and timely application will have nine more courses after admission to earn the degree. Applicants can register for courses in the upcoming semester before they receive their grades and while they await their admission decision.

Alternative Admission Pathway

We offer one alternative pathway to admission:

MITx MicroMasters® Credential Admissions Pathway

If you have earned the MITx MicroMasters credential, you may apply the credential toward admission and complete 1 additional course at the Extension School. Learn more about the MicroMasters pathway.

The Office of Predegree Advising & Admissions makes all final determinations about program eligibility.

Search and Register for Courses

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) offers degree courses all year round to accelerate degree completion.

  • You can study in fall, January, and spring terms through Harvard Extension School (HES) and during the summer through Harvard Summer School (HSS).
  • You can enroll full or part time. After qualifying for admission, many of our degree candidates study part time, taking 2 courses per semester (fall/spring) and 1 in the January and summer sessions.
  • Most fall and spring courses meet once a week for two hours, while January and summer courses meet more frequently in a condensed format.

To Complete Your Degree

  • Trophy on a computer monitor.

    Maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.

  • Clipboard with a pen.

    Complete your courses in five years.

  • Graduation cap and diploma.

    Earn your Harvard degree and enjoy Harvard Alumni Association benefits upon graduation.

Required GPA, Withdrawal Grades, and Repeat Courses

GPA. You need to earn a B or higher in each of the two degree courses required for admission and a B– or higher in each of the subsequent courses. In addition, your cumulative GPA cannot dip below 3.0.

Withdrawal Grades. You are allowed to receive two withdrawal (WD) grades without them affecting your GPA. Any additional WD grades count as zero in your cumulative GPA. See Academic Standing.

Repeat Courses. We advise you to review the ALM program’s strict policies about repeating courses. Generally speaking, you may not repeat a course to improve your GPA or to fulfill a degree requirement (if the minimum grade was not initially achieved). Nor can you repeat a course for graduate credit that you’ve previously completed at Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School at the undergraduate level.

Courses Expire: Finish Your Coursework in Under Five Years

Courses over five years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree. As stated above, the proseminar cannot be more than two years old at the time of application.

Further, you have five years to complete your degree requirements. The five-year timeline begins at the end of the term in which you complete any two degree-applicable courses, regardless of whether or not you have been admitted to a degree program.

Potential degree candidates must plan accordingly and submit their applications to comply with the five-year course expiration policy or they risk losing degree credit for completed course work. Additionally, admission eligibility will be jeopardized if, at the point of application to the program, the five-year degree completion policy cannot be satisfied (i.e., too many courses to complete in the time remaining).

Graduate with Your Harvard Degree

When you have fulfilled all degree requirements, you will earn your Harvard University degree: Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) in Extension Studies, Field: Sustainability. Degrees are awarded in November, March, and May, with the annual Harvard Commencement ceremony in May.

Degree Candidate Exclusive Benefits

When you become an officially admitted degree candidate, you have access to a rich variety of exclusive benefits to support your academic journey. To learn more, visit degree candidate academic opportunities and privileges.